Skin in the game
As more foundations and granting agencies look holistically at how they work with their grantees they are giving more than money. Support from a funder can now include technical assistance such as training sessions, technology, time to work with a specific consultant, invitations to conferences or meetings, opportunities to collaborate with other grantees, and more. Sometimes this support is in addition to funding, and sometimes it is instead of funding. Sometimes nonfinancial support is well received by nonprofits. Other times, there is a less than enthusiastic response.
The difference in how nonfinancial support is received can tie back to the past relationship between a funder and grantees and/or it can be related to the larger environment nonprofits are operating in. Here’s how we see it. In some communities government and philanthropic funders are seen as gatekeepers and kingmakers who decide which organizations—and causes—are worthy of investment. While unspoken, there may be a feeling amongst nonprofits that these funders ask for a lot and offer little. An offer of nonfinancial technical assistance can be perceived as “another hoop to jump through” instead of an opportunity to partner and/or provide access to resources. In other communities—or for organizations within the same community—nonfinancial technical assistance is quickly embraced. It is seen as an opportunity to gain needed resources or information and to strengthen relationships. It is seen as an “added bonus” or a first step in a future potential funding relationship. Responses are nuanced and often influenced by a funder’s history, reputation, and the extent to which actual funding—and not “just resources” are available.
We believe that the more that nonprofits and government and philanthropic funders can work together the stronger a community can become. We support the expansion of nonfinancial support by agencies and foundations. We don’t see this as a substitute for financial support, but as a complement. It takes money, resources, expertise, and relationships to create change. Money alone is not enough.
Here are our recommendations for how nonprofits can demonstrate they have “skin in the game” and are committed to growth via nonfinancial technical support. First, evaluate the nonfinancial offer before accepting to ensure you have the band-width to follow through with the offered support. Make sure it aligns with your organization’s vision and that you bring your heart to the project. Consider the longer-term impact of the offered assistance and the value of building relationships. If you accept, engage the right people from your team and be sure to engage (or at least inform) board members and key administrators. Keep your word. Follow up and follow through and put to use the guidance, technology, or recommendations offered. Of course you don’t want to blindly accept what is offered, but you must continuously evaluate and then implement in a timely manner. Don’t make excuses. Report the results of trainings or the implementation of new processes. Remember: everything free is not free, and it takes more than money to succeed. Here’s to your success!
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